Tech hubs will bolster growth of e-health in Africa


Francis Osiemo(inset), a Medical Clinician and the Chief Operating Officer of Sasa Doctor at his Clinic in Westlands, Nairobi attends to his client through Phone telemedicine on May 15, 2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

In a continent that enjoys a fertile environment for innovation due to its youthful, ever-growing population and rising internet penetration, techprenuers keep challenging themselves to develop tools that can help improve access to healthcare, financial services, education and energy.

In order for us to optimise the full potential of this tech explosion, tech hubs have taken the lead in generating new knowledge and innovative solutions particularly for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

They are proving to be more effective in economic and social value creation by generating new jobs, stimulating the entrepreneurial ecosystem through innovative solutions and improving the quality of life through technology.

Last week, Rwanda became the home of a HealthTech accelerator, a first on the continent, whose mission is to help governments and startups to collaborate on technology-enabled innovations aimed at strengthening health systems in Africa.

Founded by Novartis Foundation in partnership with Norrsken East Africa, the HealthTech Hub Africa is a new HealthTech accelerator that intends to support local authorities to tackle the largest health challenges in low-income and underserved populations.

Africa's tech hubs have grown to a new record of 643, according to a 2019 survey by Briter Bridges and AfriLabs called ‘Building a conducive setting for innovators to thrive’, providing the backbone of the region’s tech ecosystem.

This presents an opportunity for greater growth as 41 percent of these facilities are incubators, 24 percent are innovation hubs, 14percent are accelerators and 39percent offer co-working space.

The HealthTech Hub Africa will support technology innovations that are tackling public health system challenges in Africa and will host up to 30 startups, guiding them to test, validate and scale up their solutions beyond the region.

The goal is to strengthen the local HealthTech network by creating more opportunities for collaboration and exchange between policymakers and innovators who are working to utilise these breakthrough technologies in overcoming major population health challenges.

This will help realise the SDG declaration which emphasizes that to achieve the overall health goal, we must achieve universal health coverage (UHC) and access to quality health care without getting into financial difficulties or, worse, pushed into poverty by 2030.

Apart from capability-building, the startups will also get partnership opportunities with players in the public and private sectors. From a private sector perspective, the strategic partnerships with local tech startups can introduce cutting-edge digital technologies and novel business models that benefit the organisation, the startup and consumers.

At the government level, financial incentives for investors and large national companies to nurture and collaborate with fledgling startups have the potential to further develop the hubs into foreign investment attractors and talent hubs for the youthful continent.

With research by WHO in 2016 showing that almost 50 percent of hospital admissions and deaths are from non-communicable diseases, the techies will be aiming to develop virtual care solutions for cardiovascular diseases among others to not only ease congestion in our health facilities but also bolster home-based care programmes and improve UHC enrolment and tailored payment mechanisms convenient to the diverse socio-economic groups.

In the long run, solutions from the health hub, should help in improving accuracy and timeliness of data, reducing misdiagnoses due to gaps inpatient data to foster treatment efficiency and help prevent burnout by solving huge pain point for caregivers.

In East Africa, the role of the private sector in healthcare is growing and leaders across the sectors are keen on unifying diverse players across the ecosystem to grow innovative solutions.

Thus, the HealthTech hub is one of those initiatives that will go a long way in impacting the socio-economic wellbeing of patients.

This, coupled with the improved government policies on health and investment in breakthrough treatments, will ensure that healthcare is delivered across the population pyramid in an effective, efficient and economical manner.

The writer is the Cluster Head- Novartis East Africa